Archive for April, 2010

420 Day – A Ritual To Explore

If you’ve attended one of our trainings, you’ve heard us ask, “Where do teens find ritual?”

420 is one answer.

420 is April 20, a self-selected holiday for marijuana users.  The phrase was coined by some students at San Rafael High School in my own county – Marin County, CA, – in 1971 during my freshman year.  It’s a ritual now, to say the least.  Every year at 4:20pm on April 20, people light up together on or near school and college campuses and other gathering places for a group smoke. Every school counselor is prepared to receive numerous referrals following April 20, and urine tests for kids on probation tend to be scheduled more heavily in the days following. The Huffington Post told the story of 420’s origins in more depth last year at:

Although it was common and accessible for many teens and young adults when I was in high school in the 70’s, marijuana use today is common across generations and nearly 42% of male students and 35% of female students nationally report having used it.

As a Girls Circle facilitator and as a therapist, I have had hundreds of conversations with teens and families about weed. I am both fascinated and disquieted by its use. I’ve seen:

  • marriages devastated because of it
  • friends undergoing chemotherapy relieved by it
  • relatives who experimented with it then move on to more dangerous drugs and addictions
  • teens self-medicate with it for undiagnosed conditions, and
  • parents continue to smoke it on the down low

A major commodity with a large economy and a great deal of power to impact teens’ health and development, marijuana is a drug with a very confusing status.  While teens continue to be arrested for possession or selling weed, and some teens are struggling to find motivation and developing an addiction, a first ever cannabis and hemp trade show was held Sunday at the Cow Palace near San Francisco,

The show emphasized medical marijuana use and included information and support for a California ballot initiative in November to legalize marijuana, potentially opening a new source of entrepreneurship and revenue stream for California’s damaged economy.

It may be only a matter of time before it shows up in commercials, along with beer and the pharmaceuticals. It’s the most heavily used illicit drug. 1 in 12 kids will develop an addiction to it, and frequent or heavy use of pot can result in mental illness or in an exacerbation of a pre-existing mental illness.

So what do kids think about it? It varies, but most of what I hear is “it’s no big deal,” “it’s natural,” “organic,” and not dangerous or addictive. Many say they smoke throughout high school and still get good grades, yet studies show that marijuana interferes with short term memory processing, motivation, and even hormones. One junior girl last week told me that if she does NOT smoke, she cannot focus on her studies because her mind races and she has a jumpy feeling; the smoking calms her and helps her focus, but at the same time, she doesn’t like the food cravings she gets.  Maybe she’s suffering from ADHD or another undiagnosed condition, or maybe past traumas are causing her stress levels to run on overdrive, interfering with her learning and driving her toward smoking. Hopefully a good medical evaluation can help assess her needs, but it’s complicated, and confusing.

What are the risks, what are the consequences, what are the benefits and for whom, and how do we as Girls Circle or The Council facilitators support teens in their understanding and safe decision making about marijuana?  These are good questions for your group.

Stay open, stay informed, practice nonjudgment, be prepared to listen actively to your group members, and offer neutral, fact-based information if and when myth busting is needed. Many teens feel attached to their use, or attached to the concept that it’s not dangerous, and just a myth that grownups perpetuate.  Try to write out a set of open ended questions in the motivational interviewing style to engage the group in some examination and critical thinking about it, and let them be their own experts while you can provide a little science and prepared questions.  Here are a few suggested questions for starters:

What do people think these days about smoking weed?

How is it used by your classmates (or…friends, family members, etc.)?

What are your experiences with it?

What benefits does it offer?  How?

What are the downsides to getting high?

How does it fit into your life, i.e. where/when/with whom is it shared?

How does it fit in – or not fit in- with your relationships?

Has anyone here ever thought about reasons they don’t want to use? What are some reasons people decide to stop using?

If you use (d), what would be your top reason to stop?

Keep in mind that refusal skills are worth developing with kids.  They sometimes need to have practiced some skits with scenarios and planned how to confidently pass on an invitation from their friends or even family members.

When treatment is indicated, SAMSHA has an evidence-based treatment program CYT, Cannabis Youth Treatment Series – a motivational enhancement and cognitive behavioral treatment program that combines individual and group therapy for marijuana users, and a community reinforcement approach, at no cost for download.

Parents who don’t want their kids to use pot can be reassured that they can have a very real positive impact by monitoring their kids activities. Studies show that when parents ask their teens where they are going, who they are going with, what they are doing, and when they’ll be back, adolescents self-report using less. See

Teens make decisions about marijuana every day. Like so many other options in their environment, it offers potential for culture, identity, pleasure, a coping tool, experimentation, dependency, disconnection, comfort, school or legal problems, and certainly, ritual. If teens find belonging and relief from stress in the relationships they build in your circles and councils, maybe the void that drives so many of them to use drugs can be filled in a more healthy way. It’s worth a try.



April 19, 2010 at 5:48 am 5 comments

Let’s Bust the Myth of Mean Girls

Let me be frank: I hate the phrase “mean girls.”  It runs deep against the grains of my being.  I know, so many thousands and millions of women and girls have stories about how girls can be “so mean,” and “catty,” and “sneaky” and all of that.  As girls growing up, or working alongside female co-workers, or as mothers watching our daughters get hurt by cliques, it’s so common to see and focus on the ways that girls show aggression.  And mean stuff happens online and by text, too.

We’re regularly informed about disturbing events in which girls participate in fights, rumors, bullying, and harassment.  Sometimes the results to a targeted person are tragic, such as the recent heartbreaking suicide of Irish immigrant Phoebe Prince, 15, of Massachusetts, who was persistently bullied by a group of 7 girls and 2 boys.

But overall, I’m not convinced that there is a new type of particularly mean girl taking over the planet. That’s why I was totally blown away tonight when I saw an Op-Ed Column in the New York Times by Michael Males and Meda Chesney-Lind entitled The Myth of the Mean Girl, Males and Chesney-Lind disprove the notion that girls have become increasingly violent toward each other and society. Although the media – in the news, books, movies, videos, reality TV – displays all kinds of cruelty between girls and perpetuates the belief that girls are becoming more and more anti-social, the facts show rates of girls’ violence actually having dropped over the past decade.

I am grateful to Males and Chesney-Lind for their research. It fortifies the position we hold at Girls Circle Association: girls aren’t inherently mean people.  They deserve respect, not labels, and when they behave with meanness, there is some kind of need or problem, but the behavior does not define a girl’s character. More likely, the need or problem is rooted in her social environment, unhealthy cultural norms, or in some instances, related to traumatic or abusive experiences a girl has suffered by adults responsible for her care.

I appreciate the good work of authors and girls’ movement leaders such as Rachel Simmons and who are addressing  relational aggression and working to empower girls with leadership and better tools and strategies in their interactions.

But let’s be real about this labeling of girls.  Girls are growing children.  They are first and foremost developing children who need protection, love, relationships, and safety.  They are also female children, and that means in our society they are expected, still, to be nice. They are encouraged to speak up, but as soon as girls are expressing themselves, they have “so much drama.” Everything girls feel real about is too much to the adults. They’re seen as just too sensitive.   As they become teens, girls are nearing the end of the child stage, but are not yet adults. They are intuitive in adolescence, and they are passionate, emotional people. That is their nature. Teen girls are not yet fully developed, not yet efficient in their management of emotional reactions and impulsivity. They are very effective, however, in their capacity for empathy when given the opportunity.

So here’s the thing:

Why are girls being labeled as “mean”?

Couldn’t the media or society more generally say the same about boys, or parents, men or women, school teachers, business owners, politicians, police, screenwriters, or any one of us while hurried and stuck in traffic or standing in line?

Why girls?

My theory: some kind of backlash.

I wish it weren’t so, but girls have gotten stronger in voicing what they know, and maybe it makes people uncomfortable.

The decade of the 90’s was the decade of the girls’ movement.  Empowerment for girls became an important goal in academics, sports, and leadership.  Organizations such as the American Association of University Women (AAUW) and the National Council for Research on Women, and authors and thinkers such as Mary Pipher, Lyn Mikel Brown, Carol Gilligan, and Janie Ward articulated fundamental and critical issues facing girls and impacting their development, and provided strategies and visions toward healthier development.

Girls Circle began in 1994.  It was our response as mothers to the message that girls like our daughters need to hold onto their voices, and their capacity to stay true to themselves would be strengthened through their sharing with each other.

We’ve seen a huge increase in numbers of girls participating in sports, attending and completing college, increasingly going into professional careers, collaborating in the workplace alongside men.  We’ve listened to hundreds of girls and stories of girls expressing themselves with authenticity and in doing so, finding connection, caring, support, and encouragement.

When girls are provided with the tools to express their needs and feelings, particularly anger, in assertive and direct ways within the relationships important to them, they no longer use relational aggression because they are free to set their boundaries, be real, know their worth.

Many girls and women have found through this girls’ movement that what matters most is their relationships – with one another, with mothers, fathers, family members, teachers, coaches, boyfriends and girlfriends, neighbors, and colleagues.  If you ask girls what makes them feel good, they will tell you being with people who love them – friends, family, pets, teams.  This is what counts.

If you ask girls what to do about meanness, cruelty, bullying, they usually have answers.  What gives them strength to counter the cruelty, though, are their relationships with trustworthy grown-ups and peers who encourage and believe in them. With allies, girls can change just about any distressing peer situation into a safer, more socially agreeable situation for everyone concerned.  Just imagine what girls can do if the media and society generally drops the labels, or even names them for who they really are, amazing girls.

This is one of many reasons I am busting the myth of the mean girl.

How about you?


April 2, 2010 at 5:09 pm 2 comments

Girls Circle